There has been a flurry of protest across two colleges in a short period of time.
- At Yale, the specter of an offensive Halloween prompted a message from the university committee on intercultural affairs to asking students to refrain from using racially insensitive costumes. Wife of professor Nicholas Christakis Erika Christakis sent a counter-email suggesting that perhaps the campus could handle a little offensiveness in the name of free speech. This email was a bridge too far and everything exploded in shouting matches, protests, and an angry demand to make Yale a "safe place" where students could talk about their pain without an argument.
- At the University of Missouri there are claims of a long-standing "culture of racism" including epitaphs shouted from passing cars, the use of the n-word by faculty, and other forms of racist mockery (scattering white cotton balls in front of the Black Culture Center). This culminated in reports of a swastika, drawn on the wall with human excrement (the "poopsistika") was deemed too much to countenance. Attempts by president Timothy Wolf defuse the situation only made it worse. Hunger strikes, football team strikes, and protests led to his (and other's) resignations. A video of the protests shows a communications professor working with the student body calling for "muscle" to kick a journalist out of a public area (the quad) where he was trying to take pictures.
What Is Going On?
On the face of it, it's pretty simple: (a) college students have always been inclined to do dumb things and (b) this is pretty dumb and somewhat vicious. Compare to the chasing of armed National Guard's opening fire on Kent State protesters (who were, erm, throwing rocks and other things at the National Guardsmen--as well as previously rioting and doing property damage).
On the other hand, it is worth looking at the specific tenor and message(s) in the arguments. From Slate Star Codex, the real problems with the vein of nastiness are not just related to hysterical college kids:
- The level of social-justice-inspired bullying online and offline that can drive people to suicide for even slightly disagreeing with social justice orthodoxy.
- The chilling effect on research when science is subordinated to political ideology, and how researchers whose results contradict social justice orthodoxy can expect to be ignored at best and subject to death threats and harassment campaigns at worst.
- The trivialization of and hostile response to anybody who claims to be suffering in a way that doesn’t fit the social-justice narrative, and opposition to attemptsto alleviate such suffering.
- The use of social justice as a bludgeon by which sophisticated elites from top colleges can condemn all subcultures except their sophisticated elite subcultureas being problematic, and credibly demand that they subordinate themselves to the sophisticated elites as penance.
- The conflation of the vitally important will toward political reform with the most trivial pop culture clickbait, so that instead of worrying about inequality and technological stagnation our brightest minds are discussing whether the latest Game of Thrones episode reinforces structural oppression, or if people’s Halloween costumes are okay or not.
This is a good point--the Yale students claiming to be traumatized by an email that didn't condemn potentially offensive Halloween Costumes are working in the same paradigm as online bullies who drove a fan artist to attempt suicide because she had drawn an imaginary character as "too thin."
FrontPage Mag dubs these protesters Crybullies.
What's going on in Missouri is slightly different--the allegations of condoned racism may well be true but, and this is important, the trigger point (the poopsistika) is, at this point, completely unconfirmed. This doesn't mean it didn't happen--but it does indicate that it might not be that big of a deal. It's also disconcerting to see a communications professor calling for physical force against a journalist.
Finally, the Missouri campus has been swarmed in social-media threats which has led professors to shut down classes (one professor who claimed he would still hold a test and urged the students to "stand up to bullies" has resigned over protests).
All of this is hard-hitting and disruptive enough to go beyond "campus hi-jinks" -- At Kent State, for example, the faculty was trying to stand down everyone rather than gin them up.
What makes people think it's acceptable to behave this way (and if you are in favor of the campus protests, how about the bulling of the fan-art girl? If you think they're not related, The Omnivore has news for you: they are).
The Omnivore is going to posit here that what has caused the rise of "Crybullies" in its current (weaponized) form is Social Media. Specifically Twitter. Twitter has shown itself to be a crackerjack organizational tool for revolutions (see: The US Administration working to keep Twitter up during Iran's Green Revolution) and these events certainly fit into a revolutionary model.
The operant feature here is that society has legitimized inclusiveness and cultural sensitivity and social media has created a positive feedback loop (reinforcing behavior) wherein, when you take action which is visible in the social media realm you get tons of supporters. This accelerates the process from simply not using the n-word to jumping on every infraction you can find because with social media you will get a slew of followers in the pile-on.
You also get death threats from the other side--but this is also reinforcing because (a) now there's two sides and (b) the position of each of them feeds on a sense of victimization (conservatives see America being stolen out from under them, the social justice movement sees oppressors at every level of mainstream society).
Social Media makes this immediate and objective (you can see who favorites your tweet, likes your Facebook posts, and shares your message). Going viral is a thrill. This is the same kind of emotional feedback that slot-machines employ.
The fact that moderate societal approval towards inclusiveness does NOT validate Crybullying is immaterial--if you are told (with any credibility) that you are a victim (microaggressions, lack of trigger warnings, intrusion into a safe-place, privilege categorizations) the message is that you are empowered.
The electronic reinforcement of that is also the expression of that empowerment. Everything works together.
The Coming Social Justice Revolution
The bad news for conservatives is that, as far as The Omnivore sees it, anyway, this isn't likely to amount to much in the larger world. Why? Well, the Omnivore's rule of Social Justice Damage is still Always Attack Allies. In the realms of academia, online message boards, Internet fan-communities, and companies that cater to young left-wing people, there are going to be causalities. That is going to be a problem--but it is still limited in scope.
There will also be some spill-over: people will be fired for dongle jokes. There will be gaming of fiction awards, and girls playing video games will get harassed for some time.
But this isn't a revolution--this is a problem--for people caught in it, a dire one at times--but it is not the fall of society. In order for the people on the Yale campus to gain the controls of power they would need to grow up, get invested in the machinery of society to the point where they have something to lose, and then, still, go to the mattresses over not-enough-condemnation of Halloween costumes.
That doesn't seem likely.
One of the central Missouri protesters apparently comes from a family with, perhaps, millions of dollars--while he may be racially oppressed, it seems unlikely his class-status doesn't compensate (and that's just using the terms of the social justice movement--in real life, if the guy has millions of dollars, he's going to kick ass in the game of life). Right now there is a "die in" at Ithica College, with this quote from a protester:
“How can a campus dedicated to preparing us for the real world not actively foster growth to our consciousness of oppression and privilege?”This sort of thing works on colleges because they see themselves as allies of the students. An ordinary business would not tolerate it and, thus, it would not be tried against them (note: this is different than the Internet Hate Machine mobs which, yes, can be tried against ordinary businesses).
A Note: The Social Justice language is this formulation on the left. On the right it's accusations of people being RINOs (Republicans In Name Only or Cuckservatives). The same theory is in play: if you declare yourself a member of the group you become a target.
A strange game, professor. The only way to win is not to play.